My Top Ten Films of 2008
(film comment by Mark R. Leeper)

2007 had been a good year for films, mostly in the latter months. I was hoping that 2008 would be equally good. Sadly there were not as many memorable films. There were some very good films, but not enough to match the best of 2007.

  1. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON More than just a film, David Fincher's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a genuine accomplishment. It stylistically shows a span of history, carefully orchestrating an evolution of feel and mood that tracks the passing years. This is an intelligent fantasy with a beautifully sustained and intricate attention to tone. This is a loose adaptation and a translation forward in time of the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald from his TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
  2. TRUMBO The story of Dalton Trumbo's career is told, based on the play of the same name by Dalton's son, Christopher Trumbo. The biography is illuminated by Trumbo's writings, particularly his correspondence dramatically read by major actors of the film industry. Actors recreate the moods of this always tremendously well-spoken man. This may be the last film to feature Trumbo's writing and it has some of his most powerful prose. It is maybe the best film that has ever been made about the Hollywood blacklist and the Hollywood Ten. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
  3. MILK Gus Van Sant directs a powerful docudrama of the life and times of Harvey Milk, from coming to San Francisco to being elected city supervisor to being murdered along with the mayor of San Francisco. The style is realistic and not overly polished. This is a highly affecting film, and Sean Penn gives the most moving performance of the year of a very ordinary man whom history moved to greatness. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
  4. THE DARK KNIGHT In a year in which so many films are based on comic books this is a super-hero film whose depth is like no other. It plays with the whole philosophy of the superhero and the whole nature of superhero battles. It manages to bring together an action film and a thought piece. This is a lot more than we have come to expect from a comic book film. Christopher Nolan directs and co-authors the screenplay with his brother. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
  5. THE WRESTLER Boxer/actor Mickey Rourke makes an acting comeback as a professional wrestler trying to retire and return to his personal life. Like his character, Rourke has been scarred by his years of fighting but can still make a pretty good grab for the viewer's empathy. Darren Aronofsky tells a solid character-driven drama with simplicity and impact. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
  6. WALL-E Pixar Animation is known for making good kids' films that even adults can enjoy. But now they have crossed over the line to make an adult film that even kids can enjoy. WALL-E is a light fun comedy set against a very grim background. This film has a lot more message than just "have a good time." It is all about some serious problems our world is facing. Under the laughs and the humanized robots this is a serious science fiction film and well above average for the genre. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
  7. THE BANK JOB When high political powers in Britain, wanting a piece of "evidence" to disappear, arrange for a bank robbery to take place, the result is complex chaos. Jason Statham plays Terry Leather, a family man going through a bad patch who takes what appears to be a great opportunity to rob a bank. The robbery opens a legal and political Pandora's Box. This film is full of action and actual suspense. The wit of the story is not always obvious when watching the film, but does come out in retrospect. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
  8. DEFIANCE This is an unusual true story of two Jewish brothers from Belorussia who fought back against the invading Germans and offered protection to a community of over a thousand fugitive Jews. Occasionally using thuggish tactics and more often being heroic, they survived in the forest while in constant danger from both the Nazis and the Soviets. The story is made a little idealized, but this is a chapter of history that has rarely been explored before. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
  9. THE COUNTERFEITERS The Austrian-German production THE COUNTERFEITERS is good cinema that deals with serious moral issues. It is about the ethical question of concentration camp prisoners prolonging their lives by helping the Nazi war effort. The issue is at what cost is survival. Writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky does not give a pat and easy answer. Be aware that survivors of the camp do not remember the central moral question ever being asked. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
  10. THE VISITOR Richard Jenkins, a popular character actor going back to SILVERADO, finally has the lead in a film and gives a strong performance as an insular and lonely professor who gets a cause that brings him out of his shell. The cause comes in the form of two illegal immigrants squating in his New York apartment. He befriends and learns from them and they learn from him. He also gets involved in the politics of US immigration policy. Thomas McCarthy who wrote and directed the excellent THE STATION AGENT writes and directs again. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Honorable Mention goes to these films:

One film that should have been mentioned last year, but I saw too late:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper